Almond Tour Educates Congress on Industry Issues

Aug. 22, 2017 – – Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, was a long way from Philadelphia on Aug. 4 as he toured Travaille & Phippen’s orchards and facilities in rural San Joaquin County but the more he learned, the more he wanted to know about California’s dynamic almond industry.

Almond Alliance President Kelly Covello participated in the tour and said Rep. Evans was “frank about his lack of knowledge about the almond industry but he expressed a desire to learn as much as he could. His district does not contain any farms but he understands the connection between the food on his plate and agriculture. He encouraged the almond industry and agriculture in general to enhance our efforts to tell our story to consumers so they better understand where their food comes from, the technology used, and the industry’s sustainable practices.”

Nick Gatzman of Travaille & Phippen provides tour to Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans, a member of the House Agriculture Committee

Rep. Evans was part of a House Agriculture Committee panel that conducted a Farm Bill listening session in Modesto on Aug. 5. Prior to the listening session, Rep. Evans and several committee staff were taken on a tour, arranged by the Almond Board of California, of the Travaille & Phippen operation in Manteca. Tour participants included Covello, Bunnie Ibrahim and Julie Adams of the Almond Board, Ag Committee staff members Stacy Revels, Troy Phillips and Keith Jones, and Tracey Chow of Rep. Jeff Denham’s staff. The tour was led by Kimi Phippen and Nick Gatzman.

Several topics were covered on both the tour and an early morning breakfast briefing. The group expressed considerable interest in how almonds are produced, the way rootstock is selected and why there are so many almond varieties.

Other key highlights:

* Pollination and the quantity of hives coming into an orchard. Tour participants were surprised by the cost of pollination and how many hives it takes to produce the crop, concerned by the fact bee loss is still happening and interest in the new varieties that are self-pollinating.

* They were impressed by the technology used both in the orchard and in the plant, including irrigation methods, drones and sorting machinery.

* Rep. Evans said consumers need to have a better understanding of where food comes from and ag needs to do a better job in getting its story told.  He was very impressed with the story that can be told about a multi-generational family business and from the point of view of the technology used to produce almonds.

* Participants learned almonds use crop insurance is used primarily due to frost concerns, but that if it’s not subsidized, it would be too expensive to buy.

Covello told the group that the Farm Bill is important to the California almond industry in the areas of trade, conservation, bioenergy, technical assistance, research and block grants. She pointed out, “We have seen no funding increases in several important titles in the last two Farm Bills while the challenges facing agriculture have exploded.”

Reflecting on the tour’s value, Covello explained, “Finding common ground with urban legislators will be key to the almond industry’s efforts to educate Congress about the many implications the next Farm Bill will have on our industry,” explained Covello. “These type of tours are invaluable in raising awareness to urban legislators about the many complex issues facing the almond industry. We appreciate that folks like Nick Gatzman and Kimi Phippen take the time to conduct these tours. The benefits are immense.”

Almond Alliance offers Farm Bill comments

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The most recent Farm Bill Listening Session was hosted at the Modesto Junior College Ag Pavilion on Saturday, Aug. 5.  The House Committee on Agriculture members for the listening session included Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11), Congressman Jeff Denham (CA-10), Congressman Doug LaMalfa (CA-1), and Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-2). Congressman David Valadao (CA-21) who is Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies under the House Committee on Appropriations was also in attendance.

This hearing was held so that members of the agricultural community could provide input on the priorities to consider as the committee drafts the language of the 2018 Farm Bill. A reoccurring concern was to increase funding for the Market Access Program (MAP).

Almond Alliance member Dave Phippen, with Travaille and Phippen Inc., also provided comments highlighting the importance for programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The almond industry has used EQIP funds to upgrade ag motors to help the San Joaquin Valley comply with Federal air quality standards.  EQIP is historically underfunded and always over-subscribed.

Almond Alliance President, Kelly Covello with House Agriculture Committee, Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) at the Blue Diamond Grower PAC and California Poultry Federation Luncheon 

Alicia Rockwell, Public Affairs Director for Blue Diamond Growers, stated, “International trade is vital to U.S. agriculture, it needs to be a priority in the farm bill.” She added that almonds are the top exported specialty crop in the U.S. and California’s number one agricultural export. “In light of our stalled trade policy, the U.S. is being left behind and almonds are being put at a great disadvantage.”

Kelly Covello, President of Almond Alliance of California, told the committee, “It is essential that we increase 2018 Farm Bill program funding levels,” she said. “We have seen no funding increases in several important titles in the last two Farm Bills while the challenges facing agriculture have exploded.” In addition, Covello said, “We support an increase of MAP funding to $400 million annually and FMD funding to $69 million annually. ”

Mike Conaway,  Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said,  “With the farm economy in its worst slide since the Great Depression, producers in every region of the country have important perspectives about what is and isn’t working in agricultural policy.” Adding, “Anybody who eats in this country benefits from this Farm Bill.” It is not too often that we get the opportunity to have the attention of 5 Congressman for 3 hours straight. Overall, the listening session was a unique chance for everyone to express their thoughts and opinions about the upcoming Farm Bill for 2018.

Almond Alliance sent in additional comments to the Farm Bill Committee and sent out a press release to the media. To view these documents please click on Farm Bill Comments or Press Release below.

Farm Bill Comments